This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel- which means, God with us. When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.
I think much detail in the Christmas story can be lost in the fog of all the familiar Christmas themes and the additions added from our own traditions and culture. But I have been thinking about Joseph, what he must have thought and why he believed such a story about how Mary was pregnant.
Some might say that after a visit from an angel anyone would believe too. Yes, but it was a dream, so could he not have found a dream like that easy to dismiss?
Before I get on to the dream and the angel’s announcement, I want to make it clear where I stand on the matter of the virgin birth. I believe it. I believe in the miraculous nature of the conception of Jesus. For those who think this is far fetched and therefore find me naive, my reply is simple. It is this – if the miraculous nature of of his coming to earth can be doubted then every miracle he offers to you and I today can also be in doubt.
For example, what of the claims of Christians down the centuries that he gives hope in a needy world, that he gives comfort to the grieving and that he heeds the prayers of those who call upon him?
If that has already stretched your credibility, let me go further. I will tell you three more.
First, it is Jesus who claims to be able to transform his followers so completely that he used a special term to describe what it would be like. He called it being “born again”. Yes Jesus came up with that one – it is not a modern term. Those who have experienced this change down the centuries have attested to this.
Second on my list, it is Jesus who fills his people with his power to live a better way by filling them with his spirit.
Third and last in this short list (but I could add many more), it is Jesus who declared that when a Christian dies he, Jesus, in person, will return for them and take them to their eternal home. He said,
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
And I have not even got on to the bit about Jesus one day giving the great command so that the dead are raised physically in resurrection never to die again!
But all that is an aside. Back to the matter of the angel’s announcement. Why would Joseph believe his dream?
The coming birth of Jesus was announced to Joseph in his dream but this was not the first time it had been spoken of. The prediction of his birth had been made down the centuries before.
- The book of Genesis spoke of one who would mortally wound Satan, the enemy of the human race.
- The book of Leviticus spoke of a perfect sacrifice that would take away a person’s sin.
- The ancient prophets spoke of one who would come and change peoples hearts, releasing them from sadness and the prisons they find themselves in.
- One of the prophets, Isaiah, even spoke of how this predicted saviour would die.
So I don’t think Joseph was a fool or was gullible.
There is one ancient prediction that Joseph may have had in mind. It spoke of someone called “Shiloh,” meaning “the peaceful one,” or “he who is to be sent.” Christians would now understand this to be a reference to the coming Lord, Jesus Christ.
The prediction declared that when the ruler of the Jewish people was no longer from the household of Judah, then it was time for the Messiah to arrive.
The prophecy went like this, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes; And to Him shall be the obedience of the people.” See (Gen. 49:10)
Of course, added to Joseph’s own e3xperience, the angel’s announcement, and knowledge of the ancient prophecies, he had Mary’s account. Altogether these different voices must have added up to something compelling.
Joseph would not have long to wait. The sky would fill with angels, shepherds would add their stories to those he had already heard. The the Magi would come and bow to worship the baby.
Shame we know so little about Joseph.
Let’s not dumb-down Christmas into just a nativity play. We are celebrating something outrageously far-fetched or outrageously true.
I believe Jesus gives hope in a needy world, gives comfort to the grieving and heeds the prayers of those who call upon him.